“There’s a difference between misfortune and injustice.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.)
Sen. Bernie Sanders’ email blast hit Wes Haywood’s inbox on New Year’s Day, inviting the retired 81-year-old retired electrical engineer from Catonsville to participate in “Our First Stand,” a national day of rallies demanding the Republican majority in Congress stop the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and its extension of healthcare insurance to millions of previously uninsured Americans. Congressional leaders and thousands of organizations endorsed the actions.
On Jan. 15, Haywood drove to Bowie State University, got caught in backed-up traffic and joined 2,000 Maryland residents in the school’s ballroom, two overflow rooms and the pavement outside chanting “ACA Saves Lives!” and “No Repeal Without a Replacement.” “First Stand” held special meaning for Haywood. “This was my first political rally. I was hoping Bernie Sanders would be here,” said Haywood.
Newly elected Senator Chris Van Hollen headlined the Bowie rally, organized by Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Health Care for All Coalition.
“This is the first battle of many to come. We will win this battle if we stay united,” said Van Hollen, whose staff circulated a flier with contact information for Republican senators. “Call your friends and relatives in Republican states and get them to call their senators,” said Van Hollen, who outlined benefits of the Affordable Care Act he said are not widely known. Up to 476,000 Marylanders could lose their coverage if the ACA is entirely or partially repealed, said Van Hollen. “If the emergency room once again becomes the first line of access to healthcare for people who have lost insurance, costs and premiums will go up for everyone,” he said.
Rep. Steny Hoyer joined other speakers, who included county executives, members of Congress and citizens who were once uninsured, whose lives were saved by the ACA. Hoyer recounted the battle to pass the ACA against the opposition of the Tea Party. “I am a grandfather,” said Hoyer. “When my grandchild goes to school, I want her and the children who sit beside her to be healthy. We are all in this together.”
Newly elected Rep. Jamie Raskin, a survivor of stage-three colon cancer, talked about how, after his election, he stood in line in the Longworth House Office Building to sign up for federally-provided health care insurance alongside other members of Congress who are now voting to repeal coverage for millions of Americans.
“There’s a difference,” Raskin said, “between misfortune and injustice.” It’s misfortune, he said, when you get cancer or a disabling medical condition. But it’s “injustice” if elected officials who are “protected by a plan paid for by taxpayers” are denying health care coverage to men and women and children who desperately need it.
Concern over policies emanating from election of Donald Trump was widespread. “Trump has No Plan,” read one participant’s sign. “We are living in terrible, crucial times with an illegitimate candidate elected to the nation’s highest office,” said Bonnie Schrack, a Greenbelt resident who said she is worried about losing her coverage under the ACA. The rally’s loudest applause was cheering in response to Rep. Raskin when he said, “Someday, I may be voting to impeach President Trump.”
Nigel Nesbeth, a 20-year member of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, wore his union’s T-shirt to the rally. A stationary engineer at Prince George’s Hospital Center, Nesbeth said, “I have lately come to realize how fortunate I am to have the benefits that come with being a member of a union,” said Nesbeth. When more people receive good medical care everyone gains, he said. “Instead of cutting medical care, more money should be invested in health education to help people avoid illnesses,” he said.
Literature circulated at the rally from www.consumerhealthfirst.org listed other implications of repealing ACA’s patient protections: Roughly 2.5 million people have pre-existing health conditions and could be denied coverage altogether or be charged significantly more; 41,000 young adults are at risk of losing coverage they now have on their parents’ plans; more than 100,000 people who receive premium subsidies would no longer be able to afford insurance; the ACA mandates that women can purchase insurance for the same price as men (previously they paid up to 39 percent more for coverage); 2.25 million Marylanders, including 585,000 children, are at risk of having lifetime limits on their coverage restored—a potentially catastrophic financial hit.
Feature photo by Edward Kimmel